Alexei Shirov: The Philidor Defence

1/19/2010 – He is a well-known firebrand in the chess world. In Wijk he is currently playing at a 3500 level. But Alexei Shirov is also a prolific chess teacher, and his ChessBase DVDs are amongst the most popular. Take for instance one of his latest, on the Philidor Defence, a surprise opening that can give rise to extreme open and closed positions. Shirov's treatment is reviewed by a field biologist in the Yukon.

ChessBase 14 Download ChessBase 14 Download

Everyone uses ChessBase, from the World Champion to the amateur next door. Start your personal success story with ChessBase 14 and enjoy your chess even more!


Along with the ChessBase 14 program you can access the Live Database of 8 million games, and receive three months of free ChesssBase Account Premium membership and all of our online apps! Have a look today!

More...

Alexei Shirov: The Philidor Defence

Review by Kevan A. Cowcill

Not having seen a Fritztrainer DVD featuring GM Alexei Shirov, I was looking forward to viewing this one, and Shirov does not disappoint, giving nearly six hours of material on the opening, middlegames and even some of the endgames that result from the Philidor. The DVD comes with 13 lectures: an introduction, and 12 analyzed games. There is also a database containing the lecture games, complete with all the lines and variations Shirov demonstrates.

The actual lecture contents of The Philidor Defence are summed up accurately in the publisher's advertisement blurb which states:

The modern form of the Philidor Defence arises via the move order 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5. Then after 4.Nf3 Nbd7, Shirov has introduced the pawn sacrifice 5.g4!? into practice - and achieved excellent results with it. Accepting the sacrifice leads to a very sharp position full of tactical possibilities. Shirov is one of the best connoisseurs of this system, and although he has been very successful with the white pieces in this line, he is always striving for objectivity and shows the possibilities for Black’s counterplay as well. Who finds the gambit 5.g4!? too double-edged, can find an alternative in the tried and tested, solid strategic approach 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 c6 8.a4. Also on this system Shirov presents many of his own games, discussing among other things the difficult, but extremely important question whether and when White can advantageously proceed in the centre with d4-d5. The third system presented by Shirov arises after the traditional Philidor move order 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4. Black tries to solve his problems by the radical 3... exd4 now, a move which was already played by Horwitz versus Staunton in 1846 and which recently has come into fashion again. Analysing his game against Nisipeanu, apart from Bacrot one of the experts of Black’s way of playing, Shirov shows how White can fight for the advantage here. Video running time: 5h 52m.

Shirov says he never tries to give complete theory, but rather aims to show new insights mainly by presenting his own games. There is only one game he presents that is not his own (a blitz game between Kasparov and Azmaiparashvili). The first four lectures and games deal with the double-edge pawn sacrifice, 5.g4, after 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.N3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7. The idea of 5.g4 originated with Paco Vallejo, and Shirov, familiar with the g4 pawn push in the Slav, thought the idea may have validity in the Philidor too. He was able to obtain some very satisfactory positions using 5.g4. In fact, so satisifactory that Shirov’s original idea for the DVD was to say “…g4 and White wins”

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, things are not that simple and during the course of lecture, Shirov outlines both the strengths and weaknesses of this move. Still, the sacrifice can lead to some sharp positions especially against an opponent who is not prepared, or in a blitz game.

Shirov,Alexei (2737) - Azmaiparashvili,Zurab (2693) [C41]
EU-chT (Men) 14th Plovdiv (6.1), 17.10.2003
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4 Nxg4 6.Rg1 Ngf6 7.Bc4 h6 8.Be3 c6 9.Qd3 Qc7 10.0-0-0 b5 11.Bxb5 cxb5 12.dxe5 dxe5 13.Nxb5 Qa5 14.Qc4 Rb8 15.a4 Qb4 16.Nxe5 Qxc4 17.Nxc4 a6 18.Nbd6+ Bxd6 19.Nxd6+ Kf8 20.f4 Bb7 21.e5 Ne8 22.Nxe8 Kxe8 23.Rxg7 Bc8 24.Rd6 Kf8 25.Rg1 Rg8 26.Rxg8+ Kxg8 27.Rxh6 Nf8 28.Rd6 Ra8 29.c4 Be6 30.b3 Kg7 31.Kb2 Kg6 32.h4 Kh5 33.Kc3 Ng6 34.b4 Nxh4 35.Bc1 Rc8 36.c5 a5 37.Rb6 Nf5 38.Ba3 Ne3 39.bxa5 Nd5+ 40.Kd3 Nxb6 41.axb6 Bd5 42.a5 Ra8 43.Kd4 Bc6 44.Bb4 Kg6 45.e6 f6 46.f5+ Kxf5 47.e7 Ke6 48.a6 Kxe7 49.b7 Rd8+ 50.Kc4 Kd7 51.Bc3 Rf8 52.Bxf6 ½-½. [Click to replay]

One of the things I liked about this DVD (and the author himself) is that Shirov does not shy away from his mistakes, but instead uses them to teach. In his 5 g4 game against International Master (at the time) John Shaw, Shirov sacrificed his bishop (Fig. 2), but overlooked a strong response by Black after 11…Kxf7 12 Nxe5+. Shirov expected 12…Kg8, but Shaw had another move. This is one of the good spots to stop the DVD to figure out what Shirov overlooked.

One of the things I liked about this DVD (and Shirov himself) is that Shirov does not shy away from his mistakes, but instead uses them to teach. In his 5.g4 game against International Master (at the time) John Shaw, Shirov sacrificed his bishop, but overlooked a strong response by Black.

Shirov,Alexei (2713) - Shaw,John K (2445) [C41]
Gibraltar Masters Caleta (1), 25.01.2005
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4 Nxg4 6.Rg1 Ngf6 7.Bc4 h6 8.Be3 c6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Qd3 Nh5 11.Bxf7+

After 11…Kxf7 12.Nxe5+ Shirov expected 12…Kg8, but Shaw had another move. This is one of the good spots to stop the DVD to figure out what Shirov overlooked.

Shirov was disgusted with his play in this game, as he was down in material (Q vs N, B, R) and behind in development. It is this type of position, though, that highlights the creativity and resourcefulness of a GM of Shirov's standing – he points out numerous dangerous variations that lurked if Shaw calculated incorrectly.

Shirov,Alexei (2713) - Shaw,John K (2445) [C41]
Gibraltar Masters Caleta (1), 25.01.2005
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4 Nxg4 6.Rg1 Ngf6 7.Bc4 h6 8.Be3 c6 9.dxe5 dxe5 10.Qd3 Nh5 11.Bxf7+ Kxf7 12.Nxe5+ Nxe5 13.Qxd8 Nf3+ 14.Kd1 Nxg1 15.Kc1 Nh3 16.f4 Bc5 17.Qc7+ Be7 18.Bc5 Re8 19.f5 Kf8 20.Bxe7+ Rxe7 21.Qd8+ Kf7 22.b3 Nf6 23.Kb2 Ng5 (23…Nxe4 24. Re1 Nhg5 25. h4)


Analysis diagram

We see just one of the fates that awaited Shaw if he didn’t tread carefully. That Shaw managed to avoid these pitfalls speaks well of his abilities too. [Click to replay]

The next set of games deal with the following set-up: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.a4 a5. After showing why 7...a5 (or 8...a5 as in Shirov-Beliavsky, 2000) is a strategic mistake (White has good development with easy plans like b3, Bb2, Qd2, see diagram below), he analyzes other moves and provides better options for Black. These options lead to a lively game for both Black and White, and those who like to see "fire on the board" will not be disappointed here either.

 Shirov,Alexei (2751) - Beliavsky,Alexander G (2640) [C41]
Bundesliga 9900 Germany (12.1), 12.03.2000
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.a4 c6 8.Re1 a5 9.b3 exd4 10.Nxd4 Nc5 11.Bb2 Re8 12.Qd2 Bf8 13.f3 Qb6 14.Kh1

“I believe everybody would be happy to play with White,” says Shirov. [Click to replay]

Shirov pauses a number of times to recalculate lines, or calculate new lines suggested by a move he hadn’t thought about before. Not being used to this, I thought my Chess Media Player window had frozen as sometimes Shirov just sits staring at his computer screen, for instance when he loses his place and has to review his notes in the Shirov-Cifuentes game. These long pauses could perhaps be edited out both for the viewers sake, and for Shirov's sake, so he doesn't need to feel apologetic about the delay.

On the other hand there are pauses which are instructive in that they highlight how a GM might calculate variations. Shirov will pause, suggest other moves, show them on the board and explain why they are or are not good. Then back to the original position and a new variation is shown using the positional and tactical insights gained from the first variation to improve the second variation. As Shirov pauses to calculate this is an opportunity for the viewer to also analyse variations to see if he or she can keep up with Shirov’s analysis (sadly, I couldn’t, and in some instances Shirov's quick calculations and grasp of the positions leaves mere mortals feeling a bit inadequate – or with renewed determination to improve their own abilities).

The “extremely important question whether and when White can advantageously proceed in the centre with d4-d5” is covered in the next set of games. All these games are highly instructive as Shirov shows when to move d5 and when to avoid it.

Kasparov,Garry (2830) - Azmaiparashvili,Zurab (2702) [C41]
Crete m rap Crete (1), 23.09.2003
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 c6 8.a4 b6 9.d5

It is difficult for White to gain an advantage as there are good chances on both sides. He says that Black shouldn’t be afraid to play into this position because there are numerous plans available. However, he recommends analyzing the position after 10.d5 deeper as it is a good line in which to gain an advantage as White. The above game continued:

9...cxd5 10.Nxd5 Bb7 11.b3 Rc8 12.Re2 Nxd5 13.Bxd5 Bxd5 14.Qxd5 Nf6 15.Qd1 d5 16.exd5 Qxd5 17.Qxd5 Nxd5 18.Nxe5 Rfe8 19.c4 Bd6 20.Bb2 Nf4 21.Ree1 Bb4 22.Red1 Ne2+ 23.Kf1 Nc3 24.Rd3 Ne4 25.Rad1 Bc5 26.Rf3 Rcd8 27.Rxd8 Rxd8 28.Rd3 Rxd3 29.Nxd3 Nd2+ 30.Ke2 Nxb3 31.Be5 f6 32.Bb8 Nd4+ 33.Kd2 Nc6 34.Nxc5 Nxb8 35.Nd3 Kf7 36.Kc3 Ke6 37.c5 Kd5 38.cxb6 axb6 39.Kb4 Kc6 40.Kc4 Na6 41.Nb4+ Nxb4 42.Kxb4 h5 43.f4 g6 44.Kc4 Kd6 45.Kb5 Kc7 46.Ka6 Kc6 47.h4 f5 48.g3 Kc5 49.Kb7 1-0. [Click to replay]

Not being familiar with the Philidor I was slightly surprised that both extreme open and closed positions can arise from the opening. For those who like closed positional games, the Philidor offers it to them. If tactical melees on an open board are to your taste, the Philidor has those as well.

The last game on the DVD is an original Philidor line: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 exd4 (in general giving up center so quickly not advisable, Shirov tells us) 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Be7 (looks like quiet development move but there are some tactical ideas in mind). That’s not to say this is the only game that covers 3.d4 exd4. Shirov often previews and reviews variations so by the end of the DVD you've seen many of the ideas several times.

The last part of his final lecture summarizes what he’s covered in the other lectures, and shows basic positions for those who like to fight for an opening advantage. If you'd prefer smiple clear cut chess then he recommends 6.g3 followed by 6…d5 7.e5 Ng4 8.Bg2. Shirov says that Black can equalize here, but needs good home preparation in order to do that against White's fairly straight forward plans.

Throughout the lectures, Shirov sprinkles general strategic hints such as “Difficult to win a chess game if your opponent only has one weakness, you should try to create a second weakness”, or: “Now I definitely cannot change queens because then with Black’s bishop pair his chances will be better”.

Shirov has done a number of DVDs for ChessBase now, but he still seems a bit shy and still doesn’t make much eye contact with the camera. His English is heavily accented but mainly clear and most people shouldn't have difficulty understanding him. Even though English is obviously not his first language Shirov also does not fill his speech with nervous mannerisms such as “uhm” or “uhhhhhh”, which can be distracting in many otherwise good trainers. His presentations are modest, and he mentions a few times that his views are subjective, haven’t been tested or analyzed extensively, and that students should not trust him completely. He’s not afraid of showing his mistakes in a game, or pointing out where he didn’t deserve to win, e.g. Shirov-Hamdouchi, 2000, “Victory definitely not deserved starting at move 17”. This makes his other statements (e.g. White is better here) more reliable, because if he wasn't sure he would tell you.

Overall, I found Shirov's low-key presentation, his self-effacing mannerisms, and his honesty rather personable. The systems he presents are a decent start to understanding some of the strategies for the opening and the middle-game in both open and closed positions. There are even some study-like endgame positions covered, which are also a strength of Shirov's. If you are already familiar with the Philidor (e.g. you have GM Bauer's book, The Philidor Files) you probably won't learn too much new material, as it is not possible in one DVD to cover even a small percentage of the lines found in a book. Indeed, that is not Shirov's stated goal. If you're still new to the Philidor or wish to learn it, this DVD is a good beginning, and with Shirov as your guide, it is an enjoyable start.

Answer to the second diagram

Shirov expected 12…Kg8, but instead there was the queen sacrifice: 12…Nxe5 13.Qxd8 Nf3+. If 14. Kf1 Bh3+ and White loses the queen to a discovered check. If 14.Ke2 Nxg1+ 15.Rxg1 Bg4+, and again a discovered check takes the queen, so Shirov continues the game with 14.Kd1 Nxg1 15.Kc1 Nh3 16.f4 Bc5 17.Qc7+ Be7 18.Bc5 Re8 19.f5 Kf8 20.Bxe7+ Rxe7 21.Qd8+ Kf7 22.b3 Nf6 23.Kb2 Ng5 24.Rg1 Rd7 25.Qh8 Re7 26.Qd8 Rd7 27.Qh8 Re7 ½-½. [Click to replay]


About the author

Kevan A. Cowcill has worked as a contract field biologist and as a university lab instructor as well as a college professor teaching biology, zoology and ecology courses to some wonderful students. He has experience working in both terrestrial and aquatic habitats from the Yukon in the north down to Mexico in the south, and numerous places in between, especially the four corner states in the U.S. He is a well-rounded well-traveled naturalist.

The above pictures was taken after Kevan got back from a windswept island off the coast of British Columbia. Helicopter pulled his team off during a window in the storm, after gale force winds came through the mountains and destroyed a metereological tower, setting a new record before the tower was destroyed..

Kevan has a particular interest in birds, tidal pool invertebrates, arctic, alpine and desert plants and critters, the pursuit of which have often left him cold, wet, tired, foot-sore, dehydrated but happy. Currently he is back in the north tromping around on snowshoes tracking carnivores and setting up trail cameras to photograph the more elusive mammals of the north.

"A highly recommended hike," writes Kevan. "Eva Lake is just 500 m or so beyond here, Jade Lake another four km." Expect more reviews and more spectacular nature pictures, from the Yukon in the future. The last two pictures are from British Columbia.


Discussion and Feedback Join the public discussion or submit your feedback to the editors


Discuss

Rules for reader comments

 
 

Not registered yet? Register

voroddo voroddo 3/11/2017 12:05
I'm confused! In the comment on Kasparov-Azmai above, you write that Shirov "recommends analyzing the position after 10.d5 deeper as it is a good line in which to gain an advantage as White". Do you mean 10 exd5??
1